With its centerpiece public terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, Robert Dunn's plan for the Edgewater hotel shares a key trait with other, more monumental projects he's done around the country.
More than a hotel, the Madison developer wants the Edgewater to be a destination attracting locals and visitors and a catalyst for economic development.
"We've got to create a place people want to be," said Dunn, whose Hammes Co. is credited with making Green Bay's storied Lambeau Field more than a football venue, is working with the Mayo Clinic on a major health care project in Rochester, Minn., and is helping make a minor league hockey arena the heart of an entertainment and business district that promises to invigorate Allentown, Pa.
Dunn, who runs Hammes from an eighth-floor suite overlooking Capitol Square, has been part of some of the biggest, most challenging projects — and related political and legal rough and tumble — in the country.
The Hammes portfolio includes the $1.6 billion Met Life Stadium serving the New York Giants and Jets; the $430 million Ford Field in Detroit; the $293 renovation of Lambeau Field; Miller Park in Milwaukee; and the Kohl Center in Madison. Last week, Hammes was named owner's representative for a $975 million downtown stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
A common thread weaves through many Dunn projects: take a major investment in a core use like a stadium and maximize return with added attractions to create a destination with year-round appeal.
In the past, Lambeau was alive on perhaps 10 game days but idle the rest of the year. But a $293 million remodeling in 2003 added a massive atrium, restaurant, Hall of Fame and other features that make the stadium a year-round draw.
Lambeau now hosts about 500 events annually, and the economic impact of the stadium and the Packers has leapt from $144 million in 2000 to $281 million in 2010, with more improvements under way and development activity nearby, said Brad Toll, president of the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Initiatives in Allentown and Rochester will do the same, Dunn said.
Allentown is working with Dunn to develop a $100 million, 10,000-seat capacity minor league hockey arena that's being coupled with another $100 million-plus investment in a hotel, restaurants and offices and sports rehab facility, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said.
The initiative is already spurring redevelopment nearby and may boost total investment to a half-billion dollars, Pawlowski said.
"It's come together because Bob set the pace and helped drive the vision," he said. "It's transformational."
The Mayo Clinic and partners are using Hammes to help plan "Destination Medical Community," intended to establish Rochester as a premier global destination for medical appointments, events, shopping, dining or business, while improving local quality of life.
It's "a game changing initiative" for the Rochester region, said Lisa Clarke, Mayo's administrator for the project.
Dunn has taken the same approach to efforts modest or grand, from his expansion of Red Crown Lodge in Arbor Vitae to work on returning pro football to Los Angeles, where a Hammes concept sets a new stadium atop a scenic butte surrounded by development to enhance it.
A Madison destination
It's no surprise that Dunn, who is redoing the Edgewater with a group of local investors, not Hammes, sees more than hotel rooms there.
"I've always believed it's one of the most important development sites we have in Wisconsin," he said. "It has an iconic presence already. Lambeau has that. It takes generations to create that. It creates an opportunity for a landmark for the next generation."
The terrace, staircases to the water, docks and piers, a skating rink in the winter, food and beverage offerings and support services will make the hotel a family-friendly, year-round destination, complementing UW-Madison's Memorial Union, he said.
Mayor Paul Soglin, who successfully fought to reduce a city subsidy for the project and feels vindicated as it advances with no public aid, said the hotel will retain its standing as a special place.
But Soglin wants to see how the terrace and other spaces are made available to the general public and feels the hotel's potential as a catalyst for further development is limited because it's largely surrounded by a historic district and water.
Dunn said the hotel's diverse offerings will create jobs, add revenue and draw visitors who will bring outside dollars into the economy and inspire investment that will dramatically boost the areas's long-stagnant tax base.
Dunn said he is now convening focus groups to learn more about what the community wants from the project. "We want it to be the community's place," he said.